August 25, 2009
Anne Fine deplores 'gritty realism' of modern children's books
Anne Fine said that cosy tales in which children’s characters looked forward to future adventures had been replaced by gritty stories that offered no hope for their weary protagonists.Contemporary literature is dauntingly bleak, with depressing endings that do little to inspire.
“In the Fifties, when a strong child was dealing with difficult circumstances, there was always a rescue at the end of the book and it was always a middle-class rescue,” she said.
“The child would win a scholarship to Roedean or something, and go on to do very well. That was felt to be unrealistic and so there was a move away from that. Books for children became much more concerned with realism, or what we see as realism.
“But where is the hope? How do we offer them hope within that? It may be that realism has gone too far in literature for children. I am not sure that we are opening doors for children who read these books, or helping them to develop their aspirations.”
The bestselling writer made her comments at Compelling Novels, Vulnerable Children, an event organised by the umbrella group Children in Scotland for the Edinburgh Book Festival.
She told The Times that she did not wish to see a return to the standards of Enid Blyton, but that she was worried about the effect that gloomy books can have on children. “I can’t see how we roll back from this without returning to the sort of fiction that is no longer credible — books with a Blyton-ish view of things.”
Her concerns were not shared by Anthony Browne, the current Children’s Laureate, who believes that a lot of children’s literature remains upbeat. “There are both types of endings, happier and unhappier. I prefer open endings. I don’t think we are living in an age of depressing, dark endings. If you look at Jacqueline Wilson, she does deal in gritty realism, but her books don’t lack aspiration.”